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Is it time to forget the term ‘artist’?

During an interview with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth recently, I asked her what she wanted her legacy to be, to which she replied; “ I certainly don’t want to be remembered as the bass guitarist of Sonic Youth. I want to be remembered as a sacred trickster.” It was a liberalising comment from such a widely respected musician. It pointed to the idea that no matter how renowned you are in your particular field you don’t have to be defined by a label. Would most ‘artists’ have the courage to say that they weren’t in fact artists? I doubt it.

It’s worrying to me that a large number of people I’ve met feel culturally annexed or let down by the use of certain artistic terms – namely the words ‘art’ and ‘artist’. We’ve cultivated rigid ideas of what art must be and who and who isn’t an artist, whilst some people who call themselves artists appear to have forgotten, or simply ignore, the responsibilities that come with this term. I often hear incredibly talented and progressive musicians saying that they aren’t artists; I also hear friends and relatives saying that they aren’t interested in the art world but who go to the cinema regularly and read bucket loads of literature. Isn’t this art? I know that these people feel let down by an art world that thinks it’s ok to produce, exhibit and publicise work that distinguishes itself from other forms of culture. In the same way we call a priest a priest or a king a king the term ‘artist’ denotes higher authority or a different breed; isn’t it time to forget this label? Art has shot itself in the head, I propose a three-staged manifesto to save its life:

1. Self proclaimed artists must produce good work

An increasing amount of the contemporary art world is a cacophony of ill thought out nothingness, a world that exists solely to give credence to individual artists whilst demeaning the intellectual capacity of the viewing public. How often do you leave an exhibition exuding energy and self-belief? And why does most art seem pervasively cynical and self-indulgent?  The answer is that these ‘artists’ have lost touch with the real world; they’re reliance on self-labelling has left them devoid of quality control. Art in any shape or form doesn’t owe anybody anything, least of all the artist.  Those artists that exhibit work publically should see through the invisible aura they perpetuate and instead produce work that is tangible, visceral and emotive.

2 The terms ‘artist’ and ‘art’ must be used more not less!

To liberate these rigid terms we must use them liberally: Jeff Koons is an artist but so is a 70-year-old amateur photographer. The only difference is that one does it professionally and the other doesn’t – this doesn’t matter. My grandma is a wonderful gardener, for this reason she is an artist. We cannot differentiate the art world from other concepts of reality.

3. Audiences should be critical

Art for art’s sake is no good.  We should ask how the art we experience affects us; does it provoke any fulfilment, emotion, or energy? If not then surely it’s useless. If you want to produce work then do it - we are all artists. Art doesn’t have to be a public activity; if something is in a gallery it doesn’t mean it’s good. Anything can become a legitimate work of art but all art is potentially artless.

Daniel Tapper

15 July 2009

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